Monday, October 22, 2012

Health Hoaxters: Here a Quack, There a Quack

Science & Society

Ignorance feeds on fear, which often leads to costly mistakes, most notably to a needless loss of lives. One of the chief area of ignorance today, fed by the Internet, is on health sciences in general and vaccination campaigns in particular. I have written a number of articles on the history and efficacy of vaccinations and the important life-saving contributions of Big Pharma. In this contributing article, Lorna Salzman gives us reason to be concerned about individuals and organizations who have hopped on the anti-vaccination bandwagon: "Those who oppose vaccination should ask themselves this question: would you feel comfortable sending your child to a school where you knew no one was vaccinated and that one child with a serious disease could cause death to your child and many others? Doctors do not deny that some who are vaccinated may get a serious reaction or get ill or even die. But these numbers are extremely low and the individual risk to a child is small compared to the huge risk of contracting a disease from an infected person."

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by Lorna Salzman

Of all the conspiracy theories and myths floating around the internet, perhaps the most dangerous are the ones posted by so-called doctors and independent health research institutes, most of which consist of one person plying his poisonous potions and philosophy.

These blogs play on the scientific ignorance of the public and the suspicion of Big Pharma and government in general. The credentials of these "doctors" are highly suspect, and their research and recommendations undergo no professional peer review by credible scientific or medical organizations or government agencies.

In the face of increasing calls to the federal government to reinforce public health laws on drugs and foodstuffs, many "health food" stores freely sell untested chemical concoctions accompanied by wild claims of efficacy that range from ending acne to curing cancer.

One of the most popular figures was WBAI's Gary Null, who picked up former South African president Mbeki's ridiculous claims about AIDS, denying the link of HIV to AIDS, denying it was transmitted sexually or by dirty needles, and claiming that antiretroviral drugs actually cause AIDS rather than controlling it. Mbeki's health minister promoted the eating of garlic as protection against AIDS. These claims make it difficult if impossible to articulate legitimate complaints about the regulation of pharmaceuticals at best, and at worst could and do steer the sick away from meaningful, safe and proven treatments.

Global Research Canada and its sole proprietor Michel Chossudovsky are arguably the most culpable. At the risk of being called a right wing patsy for Big Pharma, I conclude that Global Research is nothing but a left wing anarchic one-man show, though admittedly, if one judges from those who refer to it, a highly successful one that plays on pre-existing paranoia and that special vitriol reserved for the U.S. government. He uses as a purported credible source something called "Journal of Clinical Biochemical Nutrition", but I was unable to find anything with this specific name so it remains suspect as an authoritative source. (There are serious credible peer journals with very similar names, leading me to believe that Chossudovsky deliberately chose this name for a nonexistent journal so it would appear legitimate. This is one of the oldest tricks in the book.)

Chossudovsky was active in the nationalist, anti-globalization Canadian Action Party and is a colleague of the extreme leftist James Petras. Though he lists his past experience with groups called Geopolitical Drug Watch and Peoples' International Health Council, these are nowhere to be found. Global Research's relentless campaign against mandatory vaccination is putting the lives of healthy children at risk in all our schools. And its recent post-Fukushima recommendations of dozens of herbs such as garlic extract, ginger, melotonin and other herbs state baldly (and falsely) that these provide protection against radiation exposure—followed by a disclaimer that he is not a doctor or a health professional.

Countless children have been protected from severe illnesses, paralysis and death by vaccinations against smallpox, diphtheria, polio, typhoid, measles and mumps. In Nigeria, the refusal to allow polio vaccinations brought a resurgence of a polio epidemic only two years ago, thanks to African clerics and voodoo practitioners who spread rumors that vaccines cause sterility and AIDS.

Those who oppose vaccination should ask themselves this question: would you feel comfortable sending your child to a school where you knew no one was vaccinated and that one child with a serious disease could cause death to your child and many others? Doctors do not deny that some who are vaccinated may get a serious reaction or get ill or even die. But these numbers are extremely low and the individual risk to a child is small compared to the huge risk of contracting a disease from an infected person.

Here are some figures from Scientific American (January 2008) and the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) (Nov. 14, 2007).
  • Annual average number of disease cases in pre-vaccine era, for vaccinations recommended before 1980 (covering eight diseases): 1,027,958
  • Annual average number of cases in post-vaccine era: 22,324
  • Annual average number of cases in pre-vaccine era, for vaccinations recommended after 1980 (covering five diseases): 4,351,752
  • Annual average number of cases in post-vaccine era: 682,835
  • Estimated annual deaths from all 13 diseases in:
Pre-vaccine era: 18,412
Post-vaccine era: 4,970
Post-vaccine era, excluding strep: 120
  • Nine of the 13 diseases showed at least a 90% decline in death and in hospitalization rates.
  • Vaccines approved before 1980: diphtheria, measles, mumps, pertussis (whooping cough), poliomyelitis, rubella, smallpox and tetanus.
  • Vaccines approved since then target Hepatitis A, acute hepatitis B, influenza (Hemophilus influenzae b), Streptococcus pneumoniae and varicella (chicken pox).
A more recent and surprising convert to Quackdom is the Organic Consumers' Association and, less recent, Natural News. These both oppose mandatory vaccination and promote "homeopathic alternatives for treating and building natural immunity to the swine flu". They also promise to "halt diabetes in 25 days". Each of these groups seems to outdo the other in thinking of more creative health hoaxes. My favorite one, the best for laughs, was an Indian "doctor" who recommended ingesting arsenic and poison ivy to build resistance against swine flu.

But public health is not a laughing matter. What is puzzling is not that there is distrust of Big Pharma, whom we all love to hate and with much justification, but that so many people reject traditional medicine and science which rely on peer review and clinical testing while uncritically swallowing the preachings of unqualified, uncredentialed and politically motivated snake oil salesmen without a moment's hesitation. The tragedy is not only the absence of critical thinking but the very real dangers to those with serious illness who might otherwise seek authoritative expert medical help. How many deaths have occurred from this rejection of science and medicine remain to be counted....all of which were probably preventable.

Measles cases are now being found all over the world, including the USA. The following article clearly proves that where large numbers of children are not vaccinated, measles is rapidly spread. A minimum of 80% vaccination is necessary to protect large populations.

An article, "Measles Outbreak in a Community with Very Low Vaccine Coverage, the Netherlands" (Emerging infectious diseases, 2001) by Susan van den Hof et al, notes the following findings:
A 1999-2000 measles epidemic in the Netherlands started with an outbreak in an orthodox reformed elementary school with 7% vaccine coverage. The overall attack rate was 37%: 213 clinical cases among the 255 participating pupils (response 62%) and 327 household members. The attack rate ranged from 0% for the oldest groups of pupils to 88% for the youngest, who had not been exposed in previous measles epidemics. None of 25 vaccinated pupils had clinical symptoms. Among pupils with clinical symptoms, the self-reported complication rate was 25%. These data confirm that measles infection causes severe disease and that vaccination is the most effective means of preventing the disease and its complications. The data also show that clusters of persons refraining from vaccination interfere with measles elimination even in populations with very high overall vaccine coverage (96%).
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The author, a graduate of Cornell University, has been an environmental writer, lecturer and activist since the 1970s. Her articles on environment, energy, biodiversity and natural history have appeared in leading journals here and abroad, including The Ecologist, Index on Censorship, Resurgence, New Politics, and Business & Society Review. Her professional career began when David Brower, the leading conservationist of the 20th century in the USA, hired her as mid-Atlantic representative for Friends of the Earth, where she worked on wetlands, coastal zone and nuclear power issues for over a decade. In this period she was instrumental in the preservation of two key wildlife habitats (Swan Pond and Maple Swamp) in Suffolk County, NY.

Later she became an editor at the National Audubon Society's journal, 
American Birds, followed by directorship of the anti-food irradiation group, Food and Water. In the mid 1980s she co-founded the New York Greens, later the New York Green Party, on whose state committee she served for several years, and became active in the national green movement.

She worked for three years as a natural resource specialist in the NYC Dept. of Environmental Protection, focusing on wetlands and coastal zone protection. In 2002 she was the Suffolk County Green Party candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives in the 1st CD on eastern Long Island, and in 2004 she was a candidate for the U.S. Green Party's presidential nomination. Her hobbies are mushroom hunting, classical music and birding around the world with her composer-husband Eric. They have twin daughters, one a pop composer and lyricist in NYC and the other a poet and writer based in England. They live in Brooklyn Heights, NY, and East Quogue, NY, and have lived for extended periods in Italy and France.


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Copyright ©2012. Lorna Salzman. All Rights Reserved. It is published here with the author's permission. More of her writing can be found at www.lornasalzman.com.